“If we’re growing, we’re always going to be out of our comfort zone.” ~ Rev. John Maxwell
What do you think is one of the most important indicators of great progress on any journey?
Have you experienced getting into a new creative venture and remember being really excited for a little while?
And then you hit against a wall? Things were going well and you felt comfortable but you had this nagging feeling that you were not making much progress.
You may have an ideal of your creative dreams and passions being effortless and painless. And you may seek being comfortable because it reinforces those ideas of effortlessness.
Let at look at some ways we get stuck in our comfort zone:
The Comfort Zone vs. The Discomfort Zone
“I have realized; it is during the times I am far outside my element that I experience myself the most.” ~ C. JoyBell C.
The comfort zone is a safe place to be. You are all too familiar with the surroundings and you may not have to take any big creative risks.
The comfort zone is the sum total of all the habitual patterns and environments that we are used to and feel less resistance with.
Many people gravitate towards the comfort zone and spend time in what the Buddhists call a habitual state of “sleepwalking.”
This zone of comfort is a neat place to place yourself and you go on living the safe and certain life. But are you living your creative best?
Do you think and believe that staying within your comfort zone will allow you to live a daring creative adventure?
The answer to that may appear in looking at what lies beyond your comfort zone.
It is the big and unsafe zone of discomfort. This is the zone you have little experience navigating and you are unsure of what to do next.
This is the zone where the territory is new and the map is unknown. You do not even know if you will manage to get to your destination.
Do you stay in the zone of comfort or are you able to step into the zone of discomfort?
Do you have the belief that your dreams and passions should come effortlessly and no discomfort should be experienced?
Fear and Excitement
Creating something new repeatedly and launching it out there for everyone to enjoy and criticize is both intensely satisfying and scary at the same time.
The discomfort zone invokes extreme excitement and at the same time confronts us with our darkest nightmares.
In the classic Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker is instructed to enter a cave by Master Yoda where he must confront his worst fears. In order to get to a new level in his training, he must step away from his comfort zone and navigate into the unknown.
In a fit of anger and fear, Skywalker quickly chops off the head of the apparition of his nemesis, Darth Vader.
Much in the same way, staying on the edge of discovery and creativity calls for great excitement and also invokes massive discomfort and fear.
When we run away from the discomfort, we essentially run back into the trap of comfort, the zone we are so familiar with.
To live a daring creative adventure, we have to confront our discomfort.
According to Professor Gay Hendricks, author of The Big Leap: “There’s only one way to get through the fog of fear, and that’s to transform it into the clarity of exhilaration.”
Dr. Hendricks explains that one of the best pieces of wisdom he heard came from Dr. Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt therapy. Dr. Perls said, “Fear is excitement without the breath.”
Dr. Hendricks goes on to explain that fear and excitement are produced by the same mechanisms. Fear can be transformed into excitement by breathing fully into it.
On the other hand, excitement can turn into fear by holding the breath and trying to get rid of the feeling of fear.
By denying fear or ignoring it, we cannot get rid of it or navigate the discomfort zone.
By acknowledging and breathing fully into the fear of the unknown elements of the discomfort zone, we can transform it into excitement.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ~ Professor Brené Brown
One of the main reasons that you may want to flee the zone of discomfort is because you feel vulnerable. You are not sure how your new creations will be received.
Staying with the uncertainty of the discomfort zone and not having certain outcomes exposes you to the elements. You may fail or be criticized.
The trick to navigating the zone of discomfort is to become all right being and staying vulnerable. It means that you have come to terms with the fact that any new creative adventure carries the inherent risk of failure and heartbreak.
You will need to make peace with putting a part of yourself out there for the world to enjoy, and yes even criticize and compare.
By allowing yourself to be vulnerable, you take solid steps towards the discomfort zone.
The opposite is to shut down when you feel vulnerable. You cease creating your art and move back into the zone of comfort because you cannot tolerate the uncertainty of staying vulnerable.
Tension between Creativity and Discomfort
Creative people recognize the deep longing to create something new and the difficulty of staying within and navigating the discomfort zone.
It is a push and a pull mechanism. There is a great pull towards your creative adventure and you take the plunge. But as soon as you hit a lot of discomfort and uncertainty, you feel the massive push.
Your subconscious mind and habitual patterns want you to rush back into the comfort zone and you experience a push away from your creativity. When you recognize and reconcile the opposing elements of being creative and staying in the discomfort zone, you can move forward with both.
You can be highly creative while being all right with the uncertainty of the discomfort zone.
The Power of Taking Small Actions and Changing the Context
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao-tzu. Verse 64, The Tao te Ching.
Research from Professor B. J. Fogg from the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University has suggested that one of the most effective means of habit change is to take baby steps and to change the context.
In order to step into the zone of discomfort, take tiny steps and change the context or the environment. If you are used to taking big steps, it may be too much uncertainty for you to navigate all at once.
It may be best to start very small and do one little action that you have never done before in your creative venture and change the context that makes you feel like heading back to the comfort zone.
For example, if you want to begin a podcast series, you can begin by recording a small 2-minute clip. If you begin by attempting to record a 30 to 45 minute podcast, it may be too much discomfort and uncertainty to navigate through.
1. Recognize the areas in your creative ventures that you choose to stay in the comfort zone.
2. Become familiar with the benefits of taking actions and steps towards the discomfort zone.
3. Embrace both the intense excitement and lingering fear invoked by doing something new and uncertain. Acknowledge and breathe into your fears to transform them into excitement. Embrace the unknown, re-navigate and sail into the big discomfort zone.
4. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and navigate the discomfort zone by taking action while you are uncertain and unsure of the outcome.
5. Understand the tension between unleashing creativity and the discomfort that follows by stepping into the unknown. Resist the urge to go back into the zone of comfort.
6. Take small actions, change the context or environment and flex the discomfort muscle. Do something that makes you uncomfortable and stretches your creative horizons.
What do you think of the action plan outlined above to step into the discomfort zone and unleash your creative adventure? Please comment below and let me know!
Image: Michelle Robinson via Compfight
This post really resonates with me. I am terrified about career changing to become a teacher and feel that every lesson plan, every assignment, every time I have to step up in front of a class is terrifying. I do freeze up with fear when doing lesson plans and assignments as I feel overwhelmed and want to flee and chuck the whole thing in but then I have a few fabulous lessons that go really well (creativity) and
I experience a joy. The terror is killing me though at the moment and it seems like a weekly roller coaster ride.
I will try the breathing suggested and the action plan.
Harish Kumar says
Thanks for your comment!
I have been a teacher for many years and I can relate to the fear and hesitation that you feel. What really helped me with my classes initially was the level of preparedness. Having a detailed and step by step lesson plan really helped me. Taking small steps and going through the fears one small bit at a time also helped me.
I always try to remember that my class does not want me to be perfect. Trying to focus on the lesson plans that go really well and deep breathing are all strategies that have worked well for me. Another strategy is to rehearse the class in advance, either by yourself or in front of friends. Sometimes, dropping expectations and going with the attitude of “what is the worst that can happen” may also help.
All the very best with your class,